One-line solution summary:
Our digital community finance solution gives access to credit and markets to unbanked producers, and members don't need a phone.
Pitch your solution.
Agricultural businesses face many challenges: cash flow, seasonality, losing profits to middlemen, and climatic events. hiveonline's digital cooperatives platform helps farmers increase revenues, with access to credit and markets, investment for farming inputs, simplifying accounting and management for cooperatives, farmer associations and savings groups.
hiveonline uses existing community structures to manage data, so group members can have an account, ID, credit history and wallet, without needing their own phone for full inclusion, bridging the digital divide.
It's built with low-energy blockchain and ML, for better record-keeping, transparency and security. It's a PWA (Progressive Web App) so while it looks like an app, it never needs updating and can operate with poor or interrupted signal. It's helping communities in Mozambique, Zambia and Uganda and could be used by cooperatives, associations or communities in any developing country to improve outputs and grow community wealth.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
175 million African smallholder farmers can't get access to credit, because they haven't got digital histories or collateral to guarantee loans. Lenders are wary because it's hard to validate customers in remote locations, who often lack formal ID - even in more developed countries with centralised records, poor data qualities means they have to perform expensive checks, and in many cases it's not worth the revenue.
Farmers also struggle to get decent prices for their crops, with middle men taking the lion's share of profits. But buyers also struggle, because it's hard to keep production constant, with irregular supplies and a lack of visibility of where crops are being delivered. Through a combination of inability to manage cashflow to grow better crops, and low rewards for the crops they grow, farmers are trapped in generational poverty. In some countries, crop quality prevents them reaching export markets and better prices.
Governments and NGOs try to help rural communities to farm more efficiently, and give them access to agricultural inputs to improve farming practices, but distribution is complicated and corruption is rife. Even voucher schemes can cost more to administer than the value they transfer.
What is your solution?
hiveonline is a family of mobile apps and dashboards adapted for different types of community groups such as cooperatives, farmers' associations and savings groups, and their agricultural ecosystem. The apps are based on common core services of fund management/group ownership, commercial and group accounting, crop forecasting and delivery, reputation (alternative credit score) and other digital assets that can be used as vouchers or credit disbursement. It's in 7 languages and works with very weak or dropped signal, and we're constantly engineering it to work better offline. It's on the Stellar blockchain for low energy, cheap transactions.
Coops and groups record their commercial and financial transactions, to build up a digital history and give visibility of crop forecasts.
Buyers benefit from visibility of crop forecasts, to pre-buy produce and keep production predictable.
Lenders benefit from low-cost, reliable credit assessment and KYC, and access to new customer groups.
Farmers benefit from smoother cashflow, access to credit and farming inputs for better yields.
Merchants benefit from line of credit lending through secure blockchain based tokens.
NGOs and governments benefit from better data, secure voucher disbursement and predictive analytics.
Global buyers benefit from last mile visibility, for ESG reporting.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
We are currently rolling out to rural and agricultural communities in Mozambique, Zambia and Uganda, with projects starting in Nigeria, Lebanon (June 2021) and Kenya (Q3), reaching an addressable market of 30% of sub-Saharan Africa's 175 million smallholder farmers and their commercial ecosystem (plus Lebanon). Our customers are typically smallholder farmers and their commercial ecosystem - buyers, merchants, financial institutions, sprayers, processers, etc. as well as NGOs, who are working with these farmers and institutions to encourage better agricultural practices, carbon neutrality, higher quality produce and greater prosperity. Most are illiterate and nearly all lack access to finance, while mobile device ownership varies from <50% to nearly 100%, depending on country.
Africa's agricultural sector is growing at 2.7% every year. The agricultural opportunity is significant, as better crop practices have been shown to lead to 3x better yields. Meanwhile, 70% of Africa's arable land remains unfarmed and Africa today is a net importer of food. So improved prosperity for smallholder farmers should lead not only to better domestic health and nutrition outcomes, but also huge export potential, which will be needed as the rest of the world's population grows (albeit at a slower pace). We estimate our share potential to be around 10% in Kenya's crowded market, but up to 70% in the frontier markets of Mozambique and Zambia.
Because we support people with no access to technology or literacy, our solution is disproportionately beneficial to women farmers, who are more likely to lack property, access to technology and education. Women, however, are also more likely to give back to their communities, so we recognise that these women are also crucial to achieving our vision of robust rural economies capable of supporting education, healthcare, commerce, entertainment and professional services. By giving these women a digital history, both at a personal and community level, we level the field for their access to credit and build opportunities for property ownership through better yields and higher income. We give them access to markets, without needing to travel, overcoming cultural and physical security barriers that many experience, especially in regions of fragility and conflict like many of the areas that we are supporting.
Our digital wallets, which they can access through community or merchant devices, enable them to store and grow value without their families having access, making it harder for family members to use coercion to access women's assets. In addition, female ownership of visibly growing businesses improves their status and the acceptance of female leadership, leading to better social outcomes for women and girls. The growing wealth enables them to overcome the digital divide and gain access to technology and literacy alongside finance.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Scale safe and private digital identity and financial tools to allow people and small businesses to thrive in the digital economy.
Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.
We build a reliable identity based on multiple data points that lenders can trust, combining commercial and financial history. With crop forecasts, this provides a holistic view of creditworthiness, reduces the cost of lending and gives lenders access to communities who otherwise would be too expensive to support. It's self-policing, with communities ensuring funds are used for business purposes. It's inclusive because there is no requirement for individual devices. Lenders can also use secure vouchers for LoC Lending. The blockchain creates alternative infrastructure, so while communities can access formal lending, they don't need to be dependent on a bank to save.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Copenhagen, Denmark
What is your solution’s stage of development?Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.
Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.
We meet all the criteria for pilot, although we hope to transition to growth soon - We started through our partners AMPCM (Association of Modern Cooperatives) and NGO Norges Vel with farmers in Nampula province and we are rolling out to more customers in Zambezia Province in Mozambique. Our pilot with Self Help Africa (SHA) in Zambia has transitioned to a full rollout and we have another pilot in Uganda, with further projects starting in Nigeria (with Mercy Corps and 2 MFIs), Lebanon (Save the Children) and Kenya (Association of Women in Agriculture) shortly. We now have 1,300 Mozambican farmers (33% women) and about 700 savings group members (90% women) on the platform and are forecast to have about 30,000 members by the end of 2021. While the solution is delivering value for cooperatives, savings groups and our partners, we continue to deliver new features as we progress.
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new technology
What makes your solution innovative?
Our holistic, fully inclusive approach to digitising community finance leverages blockchain and analytics to address all the major weaknesses in African agricultural economic structures. Rather than just accessing finance, we identified the need for finance in the context of market development and ensuring nobody is left behind by the digital divide, especially women. We're seeing real time data and harvest forecasts which have been completely inaccessible to buyers before, and the opportunity for greater qualitative data, which we will deliver later this year. Differentiators include:
1. Accounts without the need for a mobile device - this give us access to the millions of African women (and others) who do not own or have access to a mobile phone.
2. Blockchain based wallets, so customers can store assets securely without needing an account with a mobile money provider or bank.
3. Holistic market development, so customers' business activities directly give them access to business growth capital.
4. Last mile data which is fully validated - unlike FairTrade or organic certification, we can demonstrate to buyers exactly who has produced the crops, how much they have been paid and whether it's organic, carbon neutral, etc. and buyers anywhere in the world can purchase the crops.
5. No-touch vouchers, so NGOs and governments don't have to distribute smart cards, and traceability to remove corruption and wastage.
6. Real time data views for lenders, NGOs and governments.
7. Linking crop treatments to forecasts and harvests for intelligent planning
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Mid 2022: 75,000
Five years: 7 million
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
We can currently see all our key indicators (savings per group, individual, loans taken, crop forecasts vs deliveries, phone ownership) via our dashboards in real time. We will continue to build additional indicators into our dashboards as we deliver more features. The SDG indicators include:
1.1 Eradicate extreme poverty
1.5 Build financial resilience
2.3 Double agricultural output of small-scale farms
5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
8.5 Full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men
9.1 Infrastructure to support economic development
9.3 Access for SMEs to financial services
10.1 Sustain growth of the bottom 40% higher than national average
10.2 Economic inclusion for all
16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms
17.11 Significantly increase the exports of developing countries
What type of organization is your solution team?
For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
How many people work on your solution team?
6 full time
2 part time
How long have you been working on your solution?
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Banking transformation veteran, top 10 women in crypto and occasional economist Sofie Blakstad built multiple core banking and payments systems for 8 international banks in 60 countries, and led whole business transformation teams up to 2000 people and budgets over $1bn. She was responsible for 13 African countries while leading Infrastructure delivery for Citigroup. She holds an MSc in informatics, chairs the Edinburgh Futures Institute's FI and Fintech Industry Advisory Board, is author of Fintech Revolution: Universal Inclusion in the New Financial Ecosystem and advises the UN, Central Banks, NGOS and others on blockchain for impact.
COO Matt Mims has over 10 years' experience in banking technology programme management, core banking, distributed communications systems and strategic partnerships. He has supported social enterprises with advice and management throughout his career.
Our product team are African - Simone (Mozambique, PM), JP (Rwanda, Lead Dev), Qusai (Sudan, Full Stack Dev), Latif (Tanzania, Product Owner) and both devs were refugees, while Latif grew up in poverty in Dar and his mother is still treasurer of a savings group. The Product team have qualifications from Rwanda's elite Carnegie Mellon post-grad school, other African and European universities and experience in both Fintechs and global organisations such as the UN and World Bank. Between us we have 5 MScs, speak 10 languages and have lived in more than 15 countries.
What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?
Having learned a lot about organisational design through my banking career, I strongly believe in clear alignment between mission and values, and everything that we do as a team. I know from experience and research that diverse teams deliver better products. We find it easy to attract diverse talent because anyone looking at us can see we're diverse, and we get a lot of unsolicited applications from great candidates who are inspired by what we're doing and our inclusive style.
Our values of integrity, curiosity, diversity and collaboration underpin everything from hiring to code delivery, and we regularly meet as a team to ensure that alignment is in place, plan strategically and set new milestones for ourselves. I also learned that flat organisations with an open culture are the most effective for delivering customer value, and best for employees, so we are maintaining openness through our regular sprint meetings, strategy sessions and team socials. We run the whole business using Agile methodology for transparency and responsiveness.
It was important that the team understands our users, which is why our product team is African, with developers based in Rwanda, and we have been gender balanced from the outset. Our Agile approach also ensures we are responsive to customer needs, so we've been able to achieve many business model and technical innovations that would not have been possible in a more traditional fintech.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Organizations (B2B)
Why are you applying to Solve?
While we have been successful in securing partnerships with NGOs, FIs and buyers, we are keen to engage with other startups and innovators with solutions that could support our customer communities. For example, solar microgrids, remote healthcare/education, distributed infrastructure, clean energy agricultural processing, agricultural input/equipment providers , etc. We think SOLVE would give us the opportunity to both meet portfolio companies, and build credibility with other service providers.
We would welcome help from MIT's economic, innovation and sustainability teams in developing our products, economic model, ESG metrics and research capability in this rapidly evolving field, as we plan to extend our tokenisation of natural and social capital, and build economic models that can give greater benefits beyond traditional monetary value. We would appreciate your support in navigating regulations as we deliver new types of value system and asset classes.
We think that MIT's experience with identity management, particularly self sovereign identity and UX design would be really valuable for us in helping to address the challenges of working with illiterate customers who find it hard to remember IDs, don't own devices and for whom biometrics are not always suitable (e.g. because they work with their hands, or because voice and facial recognition has not been well trained in these languages/demographics).
Lastly, we can use any help we can get on marketing and communications of our activities. We think that MIT Solve would be a fantastic platform for visibility and may also be able to help us improve our marketing.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
While our regulatory knowledge and research helps us understand the landscape and gives us some opportunity to influence policy, we would welcome input from professional regulatory and legal experts, especially where we are implementing alternative value systems which don't fit into existing regulatory frameworks. We would also benefit from support on defining partnership structures and revenue sharing models with key partners.
As a technology and research team, our branding and marketing leaves a lot to be desired, so we would benefit immensely from professional help with our website and other marketing materials.
Monitoring and evaluation is something we do through the platform, however we would welcome expert input on aligning our monitoring to SDG and ESG reporting to more closely reflect the needs of our data customers, who often are not very clear on what they would like to see reported. It would also be useful to have input from experts on customer data and privacy, again where we are working with new types of assets with alternative reward structures, and the data implications of how we use these assets.
For product distribution, we aim to move towards a B2C model, so expertise in overcoming adoption barriers for customers with limited technical and functional literacy would be really helpful.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
Faculty: Sandy Pentland for his work on identity, Benjamin Olken for his work on development economics, UBI and political economics
Solvers: TruTrade Uganda, Nucleus, ColdHubs, FreshDirect, Elpis Solar - we think these could all be relevant solutions adjacent to our community finance model for collaboration partnerships, to increase the value add for the communities we support.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion to advance your solution?
Our work with Mercy Corps in North-Eastern Nigeria is focused on returning refugees, and our work with Save the Children in Lebanon is with Syrian refugees.
The Mercy Corps project is part of the overall Feed the Future initiative, and we will be helping groups of mostly women led households to establish and grow farming businesses to build financial resilience, with our savings group app, and later with our cooperative app.
In Lebanon, we will be helping Syrian refugee households, who are not allowed to open bank accounts due to their refugee status, to save and protect their savings from hyperinflation, with our savings group app.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity to advance your solution?
Our platform is specifically targeted at people left behind by the digital divide, initially helping them to establish a digital identity, wallet and credit score without the need for individuals to own or have access to a phone. Over time, this enables them to build financial resilience and then to grow businesses, bringing them into an income bracket where buying a phone is feasible. Our platform includes communications channels for those with simple feature phones, providing information and education. Although we accommodate both genders, the inclusivity of the solution means that women and other excluded groups will benefit disproportionately.
Smallholder farmers are also disproportionately excluded from access to finance, and more likely to receive a bad price for their crops from exploitative middle men. For example in the farming communities we support in Mozambique, 0.6% of farmers can access finance without the digital tools and reputation we give them.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the Innovation for Women Prize to advance your solution?
Our platform is specifically targeted at people left behind by the digital divide, who are disproportionally women, initially helping them to establish a digital identity, wallet and credit score without the need for individuals to own or have access to a phone. Over time, this enables them to build financial resilience and then to grow businesses, bringing them into an income bracket where buying a phone is feasible. Our platform includes communications channels for those with simple feature phones, providing information and education. Most of our customers are women.
In addition to financial benefits, women entrepreneurs who are seen to grow businesses improve the social status and leadership opportunities for themselves and other women in the community.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The AI for Humanity Prize to advance your solution?
Our platform uses machine learning to build a digital reputation based on the commercial and financial behaviour of individuals in savings groups, farmers' associations and cooperatives. This reputation can be used by individuals although we encourage aggregation at a group level, to access formal finance and other services. It is inclusive because people can build reputation without having access to a phone, as the data is entered by group leaders or other trusted group members on behalf of others, with social validation, official checks and background analytics to prevent gaming of the system.
We are supporting communities in rural Africa who are disproportionately excluded, for example in the farming communities we support in Mozambique, 0.6% of farmers can access finance without the digital tools and reputation we give them.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GSR Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The GSR Prize Prize to advance your solution?
We are building the rails of the distributed economy for rural African farming communities where there is a severe lack of communications infrastructure and grid electricity, in countries where the resources to provide those services to them are unlikely to be available in the foreseeable future. Our blockchain based fund manager is a three token model operated with a stablecoin, a share token and a debt token, allowing for sophisticated financial management but presented as a simple web app, that can be used by people with very low levels of functional, technical and financial literacy.
Sofie Blakstad CEO, hiveonline